Last Updated: October 17th
In the world of film, a cult classic is that rarest of unicorns. It’s a film that eschews mainstream popularity and blockbuster ticket sales, a film that’s misunderstood, under-appreciated by the masses, intended only for true cinephiles that can enjoy its elevated artistry. A cult movie is one that’s ahead of its time. It pushes the envelope, deals in raunchy humor, grotesque violence, thought-provoking comedy, or campy horror. Most people won’t get it, but that’s okay. For the fans of cult films, the fun comes in being part of a select few who truly understand the nuance of dick jokes, stoner comedies, and over-acted crime thrillers. And like fine wine, cult films only get better with age.
Here are some of the best cult classics currently streaming on Netflix.
The Shining (1980)
Run Time: 146 min | IMDb: 8.4/10
This thriller directed by Stanley Kubrick sees Jack Nicholson embody an alcoholic father who takes an off-season position as caretaker of a remote hotel in order to jump start his writing career. He brings his family along for the ride and soon, supernatural happenings begin. Twin girls at the end of a hallway, the ghosts of slain Native Americans, Nicholson’s character losing his ever-loving mind, an elevator filled with blood, all the normal elements of a truly terrifying Stephen King adaptation can be found in this one.
Empire Records (1995)
Run Time: 90 min | IMDb: 6.7/10
Liv Tyler stars in this totally 90s comedy about a group of teens working at a small-town record store. Empire Records is the kind of quirky music-dive that just doesn’t exist these days. The staff is made up of troubled teens, managed by a guy named Joe. While trying to save the shop from becoming franchised, the kids gamble away thousands of dollars, hookup with aging pop stars, survive an attempted robbery and throw a mock funeral for one of their own. It’s loud and weird and full of strange fashion choices. In other words, it’s got the makings of a truly great cult classic.
Run Time: 103 min | IMDb: 7.3/10
At the tail end of a decade of teen films dominated by John Hughes movies came Heathers, which turned Hughes’ observations of high school cliques into black comedy. There’s no Saturday-morning detention long enough to bring peace to the warring factions of Westerburg High, so outsider JD (Christian Slater) decides to expose the underlying hypocrisy with the help of Veronica (Winona Ryder) — but without telling her there will be a corpse or two involved. Though much-imitated, Daniel Waters’ screenplay remains a model of dark wit. It’s still the take-no-prisoners high-school comedy all others want to be.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Run Time: 113 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
A flop in 2001 that became a cult hit, Richard Kelly’s debut stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a kid in ‘80s Virginia haunted by… something. He sees visions of the end of the world and a man in a scary rabbit costume, but the deeper he plunges into the mystery, the closer he comes to realize that he might be at the heart of it. The mechanics of the sci-fi film have been picked to death by its fans and partly explained by Kelly’s subsequently released, and not as effective, director’s cut. But its real strength comes from its unnerving atmosphere and doom-laden romantic tone.
Run Time: 94 min | IMDb: 5.4/10
This fantasy horror flick is a luxurious feast of camp and stomach-churning comedy. The premise? A young teenager named Dawn discovers her vagina is basically a Venus Flytrap and can bite off the dicks of guys who try to rape her. A pretty awesome superpower in and of itself, but the whole thing becomes a kind of metaphor about a woman exploring her sexual identity and her power over men.
Run Time: 92 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Kevin Smith’s slacker comedy has become a cult classic over the years. The premise of the film is pretty straight-forward: a guy working at a convenience store is called in on his day off and ends up having the shift from hell. Dead girlfriends, rooftop hockey games, attempted robberies, a breakup, and maybe even a life epiphany happen before the credits roll but the real fun is in watching two dead-beats try their damndest to avoid work by getting into some sticky situations.
Run Time: 119 min | IMDb: 7.9/10
Fans of Joss Whedon’s sci-fi space cowboy adventure were pretty bummed when the series got canceled after just one season but luckily the show’s cult following earned it a movie follow-up meant to tie up old ends. The film picks up where the series left off, trailing the crew of the Serenity as they evade a government-sent assassin looking to capture River (Summer Glau) a telepath who knows too much. There are adventures to be had in the meantime, and a few characters bite the bullet by the end of the film, but it’s a fitting send-off for a show that was just a few years ahead of its time.
Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
Run Time: 97 min | IMDb: 6.7/10
With the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker brain trust all dried up, Mel Brooks basking in his retirement, and the Friedberg-Seltzer menace threatening the sanctity of America’s cineplexes, longform parody was floating in the crapper. It was waiting to be flushed once and for all when along came David Wain to fish it out and clean it off with too-hip-for-school lunacy. The last day at Jewish summer program Camp Firewood spans everything from first love to heartbreak to broom-balancing contests to the threat of annihilation from space. The collected alumni of The State and a few welcome additions make for one of the greatest ensemble casts in recent comedy history, and every other line is a gem. When’s the perfect time to quote Wet Hot American Summer? Any time. Dinner. Literally, any time.
Boondock Saints (1999)
Run Time: 108 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
Norman Reedus, Willem Dafoe, and Sean Patrick Flanery star in this crime thriller about a pair of Irish-Catholic brothers on a mission to rid their city of evil. Reedus plays Murphy and Flanery plays his brother, Connor. The siblings are involved in a brawl with the mafia at a local pub which leads to them being briefly imprisoned. Behind bars, the brothers decide to eradicate the Russian mob from the streets of Boston and go on a killing spree, aided by a well-meaning FBI Agent (Dafoe) and the city itself, which views Connor and Murphy as vigilante heroes.
Run Time: 170 min | IMDb: 8.3/10
Al Pacino stars in this over-the-top crime thriller that’s spawned plenty of memes on Twitter over the years. The gist of the story: Pacino plays Tony, a Cuban refugee who works his way up the ranks of a Miami cartel, eventually murdering his way to the top, stealing his boss’ wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and becoming a drug kingpin with a worrisome cocaine addiction. The real draw is knowing Pacino will be swimming in nose candy for a good part of the film, shooting down his own henchmen, and uttering some ridiculously macho lines in the process.